The White Queen by Philippa Gregory
England has been in the midst of a destructive civil war for years when the beautiful Elizabeth Woodville meets the Edward of York, the man who recently managed to take the crown from the witless King Henry VI. Whether thanks to her mother’s spells or her own pretty face, Elizabeth not only succeeds in getting Edward to return her lands to her, but also causes Edward to love her. In a move that Ann Boleyn would copy with Elizabeth’s grandson, she swears that she is too virtuous to be Edwards mistress and so, since he decides that he must have her, he marries Elizabeth in a secret ceremony.
After their marriage is announced, Edward and Elizabeth begin putting her family in positions of power all over the country. Interestingly, in this treatment of the Plantagenets, Edward does not simply humor his scheming wife in ennobling her relatives, but is almost the impetus of the plan, wanting to create a network of people in power who are loyal to him, his wife, and the rest of his family. No matter, whichever way it happened, it still causes resentment among people all over the country, in positions high and low, including Edwards own brothers.
Although Gregory takes some liberties with the facts (and makes some historical mistakes), by and large she seems to stick fairly close to the historical record on this one, such as it is. Much has been made about Elizabeth and her mother being ‘witches’ in this book, but the magical element seemed perfectly reasonable to me. The magic they do is closer to early Briton pagan beliefs than devil worship or black magic, it seems more a way for them to try to protect themselves and their families in an age when women had relatively little power than witchcraft as we might think of it. It seemed quite believable to me that, if not Elizabeth and Jacquetta, many women of the time might engage in similar rituals.
If you’ve been reading my blog for awhile, you’ll know that I was HUGELY disappointed with Gregory’s last book, “The Other Queen.” I had high hopes for that one, as Mary Queen of Scots is such an interesting figure, but it simply did not deliver for me. After that experience, I was a bit wary about reading her again. I’m happy to say, “The White Queen” is light years better than “The Other Queen,” perhaps even better than much of her Tudor series (bonus: when writing about the Plantagenets she doesn’t have Elizabeth Tudor to kick around!). Still, I don’t think it quite reached the level of “The Other Boleyn Girl,” although it is possible that this is because Mary’s story was completely fresh to me then and I’ve read much about the War of the Roses over the past few years. I will say, though, that the first half of the book was a bit repetitive in places, and some turns of phrase seemed oddly familiar to me.
Probably the most enjoyable book I’ve read from Philippa Gregory in some time. If you like her, definitely grab this one.